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Utah Jazz down Lakers 103-99 in youth-powered win

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(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) New Jazz recruit Alec Burks, a promising 19-year-old prospect is poised to help the Utah Jazz. June 25, 2011.

By Brian T. Smith

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Mar 18 2012 10:55PM
Updated Mar 19, 2012 11:47AM

Los Angeles • Alec Burks wasn’t shaking. He wasn’t starry-eyed or in awe or anything he should’ve been.

Burks had just outshined flat-footed Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. As a rookie, Burks had dropped in 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting during the fourth quarter Sunday. And the Jazz guard had almost single-handedly closed down Utah’s gutsy 103-99 victory against Los Angeles, turning into a trending topic on Twitter by the time his fire had stopped burning and season-high 17 points were in the book.

Burks had pulled out a smooth, no-hesitation 3-pointer. He’d leapt over Los Angeles to tip in gravity-defying putbacks. He’d cut and slashed and scored like Showtime was still in style, doing it all in front of Hollywood and La La Land and everything else starry and showy.

Burks, 20, had made Bryant — likely a first-ballot future Hall-of-Famer — a complete afterthought.

The kid’s reaction? Calm, cool, fierce and tough. Like he had every right to be on center stage inside Staples Center. Like it all was nothing.

"That’s how I play: I’m a confident, fearless guy," Burks said. "I’m proving that when I get out there, I’m fearless."

As Burks has said all season, this is just what he does. It’s what he was born for. He created it in little-known Grandview, Mo. Polished it at Colorado, catching Jazz General Manager Kevin O’Connor’s eye and turning the early shine into the No. 12 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.

Even then, though, critics said Burks couldn’t shoot well enough to ever collect real minutes in the league.

Goodbye to all that. Hello to the future.

"He just plays, man," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "I’m so happy for the kid. Just being able to have some success on the floor, especially at key times against big teams on the road."

Burks finished what Utah’s kids started Sunday.

Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward, Burks — four lottery picks from the 2010 and 2011 drafts. Four of the best young players in the NBA. Four crucial pieces in one of the Jazz’s best wins of the season — a victory Utah captured without starters Al Jefferson and Raja Bell, and with key reserve Earl Watson stuck on the bench.

Kanter added a season-high 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting for the Jazz (23-22), grabbing six rebounds and at times embarrassing Los Angeles’ weak interior defense. Favors traded his second consecutive start for 12 points and a team-high 10 boards, including five offensive rebounds. And even though Hayward was held scoreless, he ran the court at critical times and never played out of character.

Paul Millsap’s team-high 24 points, nine rebounds, five assists and five steals clearly guided Utah. But the Jazz were ultimately defined by their young heart.

"That’s who we are," Corbin said. "Right from the beginning of the year, we knew that we had to play our young guys. … When they got minutes on the floor, they made the most of them, and that’s what’s starting to pay off now."

A Utah team that’s won three consecutive games and four of five moved above .500 with the victory, eyeing above-average ground for the first time since Feb. 19. More importantly, the Jazz remained tied with Phoenix for ninth place in the Western Conference, just a half-game behind eighth-place Houston.

With many teams tiring due to a hectic lockout-compressed schedule, Utah is thriving on its youth. To Millsap, it’s the key that could grant the Jazz a spot in the playoffs.

"Our depth has been the talk of the season, and now it’s starting to kick in. … We’ve got extra bodies to go in and help us out," Millsap said.

Andrew Bynum scored a game-high 33 points on 12-of-14 shooting for Los Angeles (28-17), which saw a five-game winning streak slam to a halt. But an out-of-sync Bryant was just 3 of 20 from the floor for 15 points. And a reconfigured Lakers team playing without recently traded point guard Derek Fisher rarely looked sharp, committing 24 turnovers for 22 Jazz points.

"I don’t know how many shots [Bryant] missed near the rim — I mean, point-blank shots," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "So for me, the shots he took, he’s our guy. I’ll play that game all over again and have him shoot the same ones. And if he goes 3 for 20, he goes 3 for 20."

He went 3 for 20. And for one night, Los Angeles belonged to Burks.

bsmith@sltrib.com Twitter: @tribjazz facebook.com/tribjazz

Check The Tribune’s Jazz Notes blog at sltrib.com/Blogs/jazznotes for exclusive news, interviews, video and analysis.

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